Food by VICE

An Egg Made Out of Fruit Peel Could Solve Mexico’s Obesity Crisis

A Monterrey-based startup has developed an ingredient made from recovered fruit parts that it hopes could replace eggs in Mexico’s fat-laden baked goods.

by Rich McEachran
Apr 14 2015, 10:00am

Photo courtesy Eat Limmo.

How do we solve a problem like obesity in Mexico? With seeds and peels from our wasted fruit, of course—according to the startup, Eat Limmo.

OK, so there's a bit more to it than that, but this is the premise behind the Monterrey-based organisation, which is developing an ingredient from recovered fruit parts that it hopes could replace some of the eggs and oils in bakery goods like cupcakes, as well as acting as a binding agent in tortillas.

"Seeds and peels are often the most nutritious part of the fruits, yet are normally discarded," explains co-founder Enrique Gonzalez. "It is estimated that out of every two calories grown to feed humans, one is wasted [somewhere] along the food chain. So that means we waste 50 percent of crops worldwide."

Gonzalez trained as an economist and his business partner, Flavio Siller has a background in waste management and biotechnology. The ingredient they've created doesn't look too dissimilar to powdered chia and flax seeds, which have long been touted as superfoods and ideal egg substitutes. And like chia and flax seeds, fruit peels, pips, and rinds are known to contain various micronutrients, vitamins, and even omega-3 fatty acids.

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Although Gonzalez doesn't give much away about the production process behind the ingredient (it's awaiting a patent), he does believe it could become the kind of innovation to whip up a frenzy in the food industry.

"It is very common that in Mexico you can find snack products like Twinkie cakes in small towns where there is not even water or electricity. As you know, this kind of product is affordable but not nutritious," he explains. "By changing food through its composition—without changing its flavour, colour or texture—and by substituting harmful ingredients, while adding more nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, we can [reverse the situation] and make nutrition affordable. Imagine Twinkies with 40 percent less fats and eggs, and 5 percent more fibre."

Mexico's sweet tooth for cakes and particular thirst for Coca Cola has previously led the country's government to introduce a soda tax. A report published by the Open Data Institute a little over a year ago identified the country as one of the developing nations where obesity is soaring to an unprecedented level—a whopping 32.8 percent of the population is said to have bulging waistlines.

By changing food through its composition and substituting harmful ingredients—while adding more nutrients—we can make nutrition affordable. Imagine Twinkies with 40 percent less fats and eggs, and 5 percent more fibre.

"I personally lived like this," says Gonzalez, telling me that it was his own experience that inspired him to set up Eat Limmo. "When I was a child I was obese, and when I was 15 years old, I was diagnosed with pre-diabetes. This created a big impact in my life because I had to make big changes for the better or continue down the road to diabetes."

He points the finger of blame partly at a lack of substantial food options and nutritional guidance when growing up. It's an issue that the world of global development is finally waking up to—obesity is now regarded alongside undernutrition as the 'double burden' of malnutrition.

At a recent conference I attended in February, policy wonks and big wigs gathered to discuss how to close the nutrition gap (which is bloody huge, by the way.) Francesco Branca, director of nutrition at the World Health Organisation, called for the need for improved diet quality.

"The affordability of good food needs to be the starting point," said Branca, who has also held a post as an adjunct professor at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy. "There is a role for manufacturers. Unfortunately we see that the food environment is increasingly populated by manufactured food which is not the type of food we would like to see for our kids: products that are too rich in salt, sugar, and the wrong fats."

Gonzalez agrees with Branca. Manufacturers have to take more responsibility, as people are always going to binge on certain foods and banning them altogether won't happen. He says manufacturers need to work with Eat Limmo for example, to "improve what people already consume without adding a premium for a health improvement".

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The startup is already beginning to partner with clients around the Monterrey area to introduce the ingredient into products. Gonzalez admits it can be a hard sell to convince manufacturers that there's money in making healthier foods, particularly when they're targeting people who tend to prefer the sugary and fatty stuff. But once they've been won round, they can be helped to replicate their products with a 5 to 10 percent reduction in manufacturing costs.

The startup's ambition has gained them attention outside of Mexico too. Gonzalez and Siller have recently returned from Johannesburg, where they had been invited to run a workshop teaching people about how to bake healthier bread. (South Africa is another country identified by reports as having morbidly high obesity rates.) With a national unemployment rate of nearly 25 percent, the aim of the workshop was to also inspire entrepreneurs to think about setting up their own health food businesses.

Developed countries like the UK, US, and Australia are not immune to rising obesity levels either. So what about us—should we too be swapping some of the eggs that go into our bakery goods for seeds, peels, and other unwanted bits and bobs?

"Like most other egg replacers, they're never going to perform exactly like eggs, which rely on proteins to do most of their work," says Mattie Hagedorn, a.k.a. @Veganbaking. "[Seed-based replacers] don't have a strong ability to foam, for example. That means it's next to impossible to use to make extremely airy desserts like angel food cake, choux pastry or popovers (which are a bit like Yorkshire puddings). They can though, when used properly, act as a low foaming agent, and a mild structure builder and emulsifier, without impacting on flavours, colours or textures."

We may not be able to whisk up a full array of devilish treats with them, but they do have advantages over other dietary alternatives and commercial egg substitutes. Hagedorn adds that they are usually not subjected to the same high-intensive production processes as some nutritional supplements are; they are typically consumed as whole foods, or as near to whole as possible—in ground or powder form.

"We're at a time where many people may look to expensive, processed nutritional supplements to gain an edge on their health," he says. "They [seed-based replacers] offer a much better option. And because they're usually cheaper."